Published 10:26 p.m. CT Oct. 19, 2018 |
It’s tough to imagine two candidates more different than Randy Bryce and Bryan Steil.
Those differences became instantly clear as the pair faced off during their spirited first debate in the race to replace outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan in his seat representing Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District.
Bryce quickly tore into a series of attack ads from the Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC endorsed by Ryan and House Republican leadership, which have targeted Bryce’s nine arrests and financial struggles. He called them “nasty, horrible ads.”
“Bryan, these ads are breaking my mom’s heart. My son has to see these before he has to go to sleep,” Bryce said in his fiery opening remarks. “Tonight, you’re not going to be able to hide between millions of dollars’ worth of attack ads. We’re going to have people that are going to have questions answered. Game on.”
Steil, in turn, portrayed Bryce as a liberal who backs radical ideas that are out of step with voters in the southeastern Wisconsin district.
“I think what we’re going to hear tonight is a real contrast of ideas, between my opponent and I, and what direction we want to take our country, ” Steil said. “My background is solving problems.”
Steil, 37, is a corporate attorney, former Ryan staffer, and a UW regent. He backs Ryan’s tax overhaul, supports repealing the Affordable Care Act and building a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Bryce backs “Medicare for all,” wants to abolish U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal agency known as ICE, and supports gun-control measures like mandatory background checks for gun purchases.
Those were just a few of the polar opposite positions Bryce and Steil argued over Friday night during their hourlong debate at Oak Creek City Hall. It was the first of three debates the two will have in the lead-up to the Nov. 6 election.
They will meet again Tuesday and Oct. 29.
Bryce got in the race more than a year ago with a viral campaign launch video that won him national attention, major endorsements from celebrities and prominent Democrats and millions of dollars in contributions.
But he’s also faced questions about his background, which includes nine arrests and struggles to pay off debts, including child support payments. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC endorsed by Ryan, has targeted him over his arrests and debts as part of a some $2 million attack ad blitz.
Steil launched his campaign for Ryan’s seat shortly after the speaker announced in April that he wasn’t seeking re-election.
Steil serves as the general counsel to a Milton manufacturer of packaging materials, Charter NEX Films, and was appointed to the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents in 2016 by Gov. Scott Walker. He touted that experience, saying he understands what Wisconsin needs when it comes to training workers and creating jobs.
It may be Steil’s first race, but he comes from a longtime political family. George Steil, Bryan’s grandfather, was appointed by former Gov. Tommy Thompson as the first chair of the Wisconsin Lottery Board. He also served as a UW regent.
Steil has been endorsed by prominent Republicans, including Ryan, but stressed that he is charting his own path.
“I’m running as my own man. I think what I bring to the table is unique,” Steil said after the debate.
He added that his experience as a UW regent has helped him develop ideas for training workers.
But Bryce insisted that all Republicans have to run on is “nasty attack ads.”
He said it would mean “everything” to win the seat.
“It’s returning the seat to working people,” Bryce said.
Editor’s note: Friday’s debate was sponsored by Wisconsin Eye and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and moderated by Steve Walters of Wisconsin Eye and Mary Spicuzza of the Journal Sentinel.